From Definitive to Confident in the Classroom

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Last year I went to DisneyWorld.  I could not believe the long lines for rides.  While some of the lines were definitely not worth the wait (Haunted Mansion I’m looking at you), other rides (Splash Mountain) were definitely worth the wait.  This wild ride of teaching has been more than worth the wait and has exceeded my lofty expectations.

When I first started teaching, I felt like I wanted to make everything definitive.  I think this was a mind hack on my part to convince myself I was doing the right thing.

For instance, I would make these definitive statements like, “Group work is the only way to go.”  “Technology in the classroom is vital.”  “He must do these 100 sentences to learn his lesson.”  It is quite comical looking back on it.  It is also quite sad, because what did I know at that young age?  I was trying to fit every one of my students, every one of my lessons, and, yes, every one of my decisions in this nice, little black and white box.  

We all know life doesn’t work that way, and a student and their background is so much more complex.

Now if this was just a me problem, that would be one thing.  Unfortunately, I see this same mistake being repeated over and over again in education today.  Social media is not helping out.  In the rush to put out a great sound bite in a tweet, facebook post, or blog entry we often box our opinions into a corner as the only definitive approach to education.

We see this often with the latest and greatest “flavor of the day” in the education world.  Definitive statements begin to flow.  “Maker spaces are the only way for students to feel empowered.”  “There is no better way to learn than in a PLC!”  “Identifying a fixed mindset is a game changer.”  

I’m pretty sure I can see the collective eye roll of all of my readers.

In our race to a definitive statement, we minimize the actual importance of the given topic we are reflecting on.  

Ultimately, I came to the realization that my confidence was the thing that needed the most boosting without the use of a definitive statement.

Thankfully, I can now definitely say, there is always room to grow.  That is the funny thing about growth.  For when we grow, so does our confidence.

What My 88-Year-Old Grandma Taught Me about Teaching (and Life)

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Teaching is not rocket science, nor is pretty much anything else in life.  I read a book years ago where the authors explained some of the most complicated ideas, inventions, and concepts using only the the 500 most common words in the English language.  It was fascinating to see something like nuclear thermodynamics explained in such common, ordinary language.   

So there I was, sitting at a kitchen table, talking to my 88 year-old grandma about life.  I was soaking it all in as we have so few opportunities to catch up in person.  We were talking about history (of course) specifically World War II era and the Great Depression.  We were talking about how folks can have a positive mindset even through unfathomable circumstances.  Then she shared something so profound and so simple that I had to make a note of it.

“Today may be awful, but tomorrow could be wonderful.”

While I’m sure my grandma had her share of awful days, you would never know it.  She is always positive and always encouraging.  

Obviously this quote is a wonderful quote about life, but so much of teaching is simply about life.  Teaching is partly, if not mainly, about building character and grit and toughness and patience and empathy in these students that God has blessed us with in our classroom.  Clearly we have much content to convey as well, but the content of our character is just as important as learning the date of the invasion of Normandy.

You would be lying to yourself (and others) if you said your year of teaching was perfect.  Who are we fooling!  There were so many moments where I wished I could have a mulligan.  There were so many days where I was left wondering if I taught that lesson effectively.  

Teaching is all about having awful days.

But teaching is also about conveying the idea that tomorrow can be wonderful.  

We mess up.  We forgive.  We make a mistake.  We learn.  Repeat, repeat, repeat.

My Dad asked if we could pick up some lunch for my grandma.  She enthusiastically exclaimed, can we get McDonalds!  You would’ve thought she was about to mention a pancake breakfast (our favorite), at her favorite restaurant, as she spoke with such happiness.  No, it was simply, “I would love a frappe!”  Even when we have an awful day, something so simple as a frappe can bring such a smile. 

It is good for us to remember and remind our students that even on our most awful of days, we have something so wonderful waiting for us… heaven. 

Bring Your History and Science to Life!

In. this video, I analyze the benefits of learning content in-depth vs. surface learning.  Enjoy!  Feel free to share any thoughts in the comments below.

The Gift of Failure

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“Every time we rescue, hover, or otherwise save our children from a challenge, we send a very clear message; that we believe they are incompetent, incapable, and unworthy of our trust.”

                                                                                                           -Jessica Lahey

Bringing Literature & Writing to Life

Having a challenging time bringing some life to your literature and writing classes this last month of the school year?

One of my favorite activities to use is a comic strip creator available through PC, Apple, or Android.

We just created our own comics last week in literature class.  The students created their own graphic novel written in the style of the popular thriller series, Goosebumps.  The students loved it, and it has caused some of them to delve into the series further.

Check out this handy graphic organizer, and start your students on their own comic today!

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Boys Don’t Need SuperDad, They Just Need Dad

In my years of teaching, coaching basketball, and being involved in the lives of teens I learned one thing that dwarfs everything else I learned. Boys and young men need dads. Most importantly, they need to know that their dad is “there.”

Being “there” doesn’t mean you have to be at every game, every practice, every up and down, every event. However, being “there” means that they can depend on you. That they know you care. That you love spending time with them. That, when the time comes, you are willing to drop everything just to see or be with them.

First, some staggering and sobering statistics. Most of these statistics pertain to single-parent households where the dad is not present in the child’s life.

  • Fatherless children are at a dramatically greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, suicide, poor educational performance, teen pregnancy, and criminality, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics.
  • Over half of all children living with a single mother are living in poverty, a rate 5 to 6 times that of kids living with both parents.
  • 63% of youth suicides are from fatherless homes according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census.
  • 72% of adolescent murderers grew up without fathers. 60% of America’s rapists grew up the same way according to a study by D. Cornell (et al.), in Behavioral Sciences and the Law.
  • 71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes according to the National Principals Association Report on the State of High Schools.
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes according to a study by the Center for Disease Control.
  • A large survey conducted in the late 1980s found that about 20% of divorced fathers had not seen his children in the past year, and that fewer than 50% saw their children more than a few times a year.
  • In a longitudinal study of 1,197 fourth-grade students, researchers observed “greater levels of aggression in boys from mother-only households than from boys in mother-father households,” according to a study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Continue reading “Boys Don’t Need SuperDad, They Just Need Dad”

Reading List: Readicide

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I am currently enjoying reading this book.  It takes a look at how national education policy has killed the love of reading for students across the country.  It takes a hard look at how No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing have been a major detriment to the overall literacy rate in America.

Most importantly, it explains how, we as schools, can curb this alarming trend and promote the love of literature in the hearts and minds of the students whom we serve.  I will have a more detailed review up when I finish reading.  In the meanwhile, I encourage you to check it out.

Resolve to Grow as a Teacher

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A new year often brings a new focus.  Typically, this focus comes in the form of New Year’s resolutions.  Often our New Year’s resolutions center around personal promises to ourselves, our family, or our wellbeing.  It is rare that our resolutions center around professional qualities.

As educators, our work never ends.  A successful educator reflects regularly.  A successful educator applies that reflection and continually tweaks and improves their teaching.

However, even the most successful educators can fall into their old habits and place the value of reflection to the side.  We may begin to teach the same lessons, with the same methods, while expecting a different result.

While there are occasions when we move from reflection to action, reflection must be a continual aspect of our professional life.

What are some easy methods of reflection for educators?  Here are a few, simple ideas for you to get a jump start on reflection in the New Year.

Peer Observation

Working together with your faculty and realizing the gifts of your coworkers is invaluable.  Take the time to observe in a colleague’s classroom.  Something you see may give you a new idea.  A culture of collaboration could be fostered through engaging with one another in their classroom.  What often happens through peer observation is that both educators grow with each other.

Journal

It is powerful to be able to put your thoughts to paper.  So what should an educator journal about?

  • Perceived problems in the classroom and possible solutions.
  • Triumphs!  What went well today?
  • Quotes.  Come across an inspiring or uplifting quote?  Write it down!  I keep a long running list of quotes in the Notes app on my phone.  This could come while listening to a podcast while I’m walking, watching a TV show, or reading a professional article.

                                                                         I will have a future blog post on journaling.

Read

Choose an area in which you want to grow as a teacher.  Find books, articles, and blog posts on that topic.  Read up on it for weeks and focus your efforts on that particular area.

One helpful reminder, don’t make your topic too broad.  When you choose an area of growth, be specific as possible. Narrow the scope of that growth initiative to aid in your overall success.   For example, rather than choosing to improve on classroom instruction, focus on how you are going to increase hands-on activities within the classroom.  This will give you a clear path to improvement.

Make it your professional New Year’s resolution to be a reflective educator.  An educator who not only grows during the summer months but throughout the entire year.

Other blog posts regarding the reflective teacher.

The Most Valuable Feedback in the World is Your Students

Are You Reaching for the Sky in Your Classroom?